Plonked in the middle of Norfolk, a few miles from the Queen’s Sandringham estate, CITB–ConstructionSkills’ National Construction College can seem removed from the bang and bustle of the industry at work.
But events there are vital to the project manager in Manchester or the developer in Bristol. In the past 40 years it has trained 1.6 million people in disciplines such as scaffolding, crane operating, steeplejacking and plant operating. It also gives 500 or so graduates a year the chance to get hands-on experience of site life. Now this unique facility is on death row.
The accommodation, which was built to house servicemen in the 1920s, is not appropriate for the needs of the 700 young people who now attend residential courses. For one thing, it falls foul of child protection laws, which decree that under-18s be segregated from adults. As a specialist college, it’s barred from receiving capital funding grants from government. So, to raise the money it needs to bring the facilities to a decent and legal standard, the CITB is proposing to sell a portion of the site for housing (which, incidentally, is in accordance with the Treasury’s policy for non-departmental government bodies). But, fuelled by local opposition, the plan has been turned down by the planners and has now gone to appeal, ultimately to be decided by communities secretary Ruth Kelly.
The proposal has been turned down on the basis that the area is not earmarked for housing, despite the fact that the CITB is the area’s biggest employer and provides the only public swimming pool within 20 miles. The CITB will have to wait until early next year to know whether it will win a reprieve. The alternative is stark: if the plans are turned down, the facility will have to shut, and training – if it’s done at all – would be on a piecemeal basis.
If the industry does lose the college, it will lose the only place in Britain where certain skills are taught. Let’s remember, we’re looking at growth in demand of 10% over the next three or four years. All those towers planned for the City won’t get built without crane operators, neither will housing or the Olympic venues. Just this week, Gordon Brown, our prime-minister-in-waiting, was extolling the need for industry to rely on training rather than immigration. Let’s hope this irony will not be lost on Ruth Kelly when she makes her decision in the new year. In the meantime there is much the industry can do to back the college – either by lobbying government departments or by emailing your views to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Denise Chevin, editor